My grandmother was perhaps the most practical woman I knew. I used to visit her house once a year when I was a child, the home where my mother and her siblings grew up. It was in a small town, with few people and lots of greenery. I loved the open spaces and our farm where all of us cousins would go play.
Often she would talk to us over lunch. She would tell us about how she selected the best quality vegetables and fruits, the signs she looks for to make sure they aren’t just fresh-looking, but good within.
When I was a teen, she asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wasn’t quite sure then. Unlike other relatives who would ask me to decide right then, my grandmother talked to me about qualities she hoped I would develop irrespective of which profession I chose.
When my grandmother died at 85, I was far away. But her advice has stayed with me. It took me until I started my career to realise this, when I had to make important calls at work and about the direction I wanted to take in life. Despite being raised during a generation when societal norms decided who to marry and which profession to follow, her outlook was remarkably broad and modern.
Here are the five things she taught me that have stayed as relevant now as they were then.
1. Be honest: My grandmother always wanted me to be honest in life. That included being honest with myself, and not shirking my responsibilities. And it also meant being forthright with my friends and loved ones. Once I lied about a prank I had played on a cousin, who then complained to his parents. Afraid that my mom would take me to task, I tried to wriggle out of it. My grandmother said it is always better to own it up. When I did that, I got some flak, but overall felt much better than having it bottled up inside me. Later, at work I followed the same approach and always felt I did the right thing by telling the truth.
2. It's never too late to begin: My grandmother always told me to choose a career where I felt happy doing my job. If I wasn’t happy, I shouldn’t be afraid to change and journey down a different path. Years later when I was debating whether to leave my job at a major Indian company to explore journalism, the path was uncertain. But I followed her advice and that of my father who also encouraged me, and I've discovered that they were both absolutely right. Had my grandmother not encouraged me when I was young, I might have opted for the status quo, and regretted it later like many people I know.
3. Be patient: Patience wasn’t a virtue I initially had. I was always impatient to get what I wanted, whether it be it chocolates or toys as a kid, or gaming consoles as a teen. But the same attitude didn’t work later where achievement came after hard work and often required patient research. I forced myself to be patient, to do the work thoroughly. Her advice later helped me as a reporter, and while writing the long essays required when applying to Columbia. Frankly, this was perhaps the most valuable advice of all.
4. Share: My grandmother was extremely generous. She believed in sharing and shared with everyone. At first, sharing seemed to be a losing proposition to me. After al,l if I made the effort to acquire something, why give it away? But my attitude changed when I started attending birthday parties and all of us would be so happy about sharing everything from food to the birthday cake. And later in college, I found sharing an ice-cream or a comic book to be a great icebreaker that also earned me goodwill. Her advice was spot on, yet again.
5. Research well: My grandmother told us to always choose carefully, particularly when it came to important decisions. That might sound obvious, but often as young people we didn’t do our due diligence and could have made better choices. The same is true for investment decisions. I realised I could have gotten better returns had I researched deeper.
If you need life advice, don't worry. Help is right at home. Just ask your grandmother!